Corina Beimers—Guest Writer
Why do I sound like that when I talk? I just laughed too loud. Why am I so scared to talk to someone? I can’t even stand here without looking awkward. I hope nobody talks to me. I hope someone talks to me. Why am I sweating? Why did I say that? There are too many people here. Why can’t I be normal? Why can’t I be normal? Why can’t I be normal?
In 2015, Dear Evan Hansen premiered on Broadway. In 2021, the hit musical made its way to the big screens. Though its story is fictional, it isn’t without value. Dear Evan Hansen focuses on the musical’s namesake: Evan Hansen, a high school student who mistakenly involves himself with a family in grief from their son taking his own life. The narrative also shows Evan battling anxiety and depression too. Regardless of what you, your friend, or your favorite critics think about this movie, its message resonates for all.
In America, an estimated 15 million people live with social anxiety on some level. That is, they experience extreme fear or anxiety in social settings. Of these people, a large majority first experience these effects during their childhood or teenage years. There’s no exact explanation as to what causes social anxiety, but inherited traits, brain structure, and environmental situations are proven to result in different levels of the disorder. The condition also leads to emotional and behavioral symptoms, including avoidance of situations and people, as well as physical symptoms such as sweating or trembling.
Though the stigma surrounding mental health has deteriorated over the years, the more-frequently-had conversations about mental illness don’t always result in understanding and those with anxiety or depression don’t always share.
Truthfully, we all carry burdens. Whether the burden be light or heavy, how would our daily interactions change if we approached others with a recognition that they shoulder something we don’t understand?
Dear Evan Hansen shows this. It shows that anxiety disorders can affect all kinds of people: the presumed outsider or the high school valedictorian. It shows how a failure to communicate and understand is detrimental to physical and emotional health.
So, how can you help those around you?
Have patience. Anxiety is not a rational disorder. It requires understanding and kindness. Though showing frustration is easy, it is the exact opposite of what someone experiencing anxiety needs.
Help reframe their thoughts. Social anxiety often skews one’s perception of a situation. You can help them see a different perspective by asking the right questions.
Avoid avoidance. Overcoming anxiety includes facing the situations that trigger anxiety. This doesn’t mean pressuring people or forcing them to jump in the deep end, but it calls for simple encouragement.
Use distraction techniques. During times of bad anxiety, going for a walk, playing a game, or talking about something unrelated and lighthearted can help calm the brain down.
Smiles and laughter. One of the best things we can do for someone is make them smile or laugh, bringing joy to a situation that may have felt like it was consumed by distress and anxiety. The endorphins that are released when smiling don’t only make a person happy, but also lower stress levels.
Dear Evan Hansen says that we are not alone. Evan Hansen got caught up in a lie, but it ended up resulting in so much truth. He learned how to speak truth into people, truths that we often don’t know how to tell ourselves. A struggle with anxiety or depression can be like an injury—a scratch on the brain or a chemical imbalance that takes time to heal—and, like any injury, trying to heal alone is a whole lot harder. We are not called to wake up and be a certain person any day. That’s not who Jesus called us to be. He just wants us to keep running towards him, even if it feels like we’re walking up the steepest mountain. Even if it feels like we’re falling flat on our faces over and over again.
“Dear Evan Hansen, today is going to be a good day and here’s why: because today, at least you’re you and that’s enough.”